The following is an excerpt from the Admissions GPA chapter of our Best Book.
No matter how hard I tried, I could never get straight A’s, even in junior high. I knew this and was honest with myself. So I thought, well, if I want to get into a good school (and I had Asian parents who were already pushing me to get into a good school), I have to do something differently. My suspicions were confirmed as I went through freshman year and sophomore year. I would always have a B or two on my report card, and I thought there was no way I could get into really competitive schools with Bs on my report card. Because I didn’t have the perfect report card, I really focused on both my test scores and my extracurriculars. Everyone who was applying to schools like that was going to have straight As; they were all going to be class president. Even if you’re perfect, all the applicants are going to look the same. And I really wanted to get into the Ivy League so I needed to set myself apart.
I had read admissions posts and they were always saying how you need to make yourself stand out. I said I would do that with my extracurriculars, and maybe with high test scores, to make up for my GPA. I spent a lot of high school not only working extra to make sure I got as good of a GPA as I could but also participating in extracurriculars which were going to stand out. My GPA ended up being fairly mediocre (at least according to my mother), with around a 3.7 out of 4. I wasn’t in the top 20% of my class.
Three things that got me into MIT despite a relatively low GPA:
High test scores, music, and science. With music, I worked for a long time playing the violin, and with science, I was in a lot of science and engineering contests. I also worked for months to make sure that my application and my essay stood out and had polish.
After I finished making a 3D video animation for an ophthalmologist that demonstrated his new laser eye surgery technique to the patent offices, he wanted to continue to talk to me about different ideas. I hung around his workplace after that, and he wanted to work on projects. I was really into science, I had participated in events like Science Olympiad, Knowledge Masters, all of these other nerdy competitions. My chemistry teacher told me about Westinghouse and said that people who were interested should start thinking about applying. That doctor popped in my head instantly, he had been the dean of a local medical school and so he was familiar with research and the academic side of things, and I knew he wouldn’t mind me coming in and crafting a research project. This extra work really pushed my application out of the crowd, even though I didn’t have a stellar GPA.